An ancient internet, the autochthonous authenticity of beauty, the virtues of paan and milk, and the special powers of civil engineers. India’s youngest chief minister, Biplab Kumar Deb of Tripura, has been quick off the blocks, voicing intriguing thoughts on four live-wire issues less than four fortnights after he sundered 25 years of unbroken communist rule and assumed office. His latest statement, swearing mechanical engineers off the civil services because civil engineers are more appropriate, is the most mystifying. But his prior theory that Sanjaya provided live updates to Dhritarashtra from the battlefield was a hoot. His objection to Diana Hayden being crowned a beauty queen, because Aishwarya Rai resembles the goddess Lakshmi more closely, was met with general outrage. And his exhortation to people to stop coveting government jobs and either start paan shops or milk cows is scarcely designed to please. The CPM lost power in Tripura, to a considerable extent, because of a serious employment problem.
The suggestion to milk or sell betel is not substantially different from Amit Shah’s pakodanomics, and a chief minister does have the right to voice his opinions, no matter how unusual. On the other hand, it is not the primary function of a chief minister to keep the internet well-supplied with memes — whether the internet of Aryavarta or the TCP/IP network of present-day India. Deb should have spent the first weeks of his tenure focusing on the deliverables in the BJP’s vision document for the assembly election — special economic zones, free education of women through college, free cellphones for the youth and guaranteed employment to every household. He appears to have referred to only the last element, but only to deflect the burden to individual enterprise.
Deb is closely watched for two reasons. First, he is a role model for the youth, and was regarded as a major worry for the Congress, from which he engineered the defections that swung the election in favour of the BJP. But now, the Congress may feel quite relieved. Secondly, he runs a border state on the far side of Bangladesh, which requires maturity and statesmanship. He should pay heed to the prime minister’s injunction against loose talk. A speech to mark Civil Service Day should not have become an opportunity to evaluate the differential merits of civil and mechanical engineering. Chief ministers generally have more important things on the mind. Or at least, they should.